Special Needs Resources

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A special needs parent knows how important community resources are to their child’s happiness and health. Dallas is a city that welcomes special needs children and adults with open arms. In recent years, inclusion initiatives seem constant, as adaptive programs in all areas pop up. From accessible playgrounds to sensory-friendly museums, a special needs individual in Dallas can always find a new adventure.

Government Programs and Medical Care

Child Find:

Federal and state laws require that the Dallas Independent School District attempt to reach all special needs children’s families. They publicize their services and educational opportunities through pamphlets, ads, physicians, hospitals, health fairs, and more.

The mother of a special needs boy started Our Children’s House, which provides specialized medical care to children with any type of disability. Children’s Health partners with Children’s House locations across the region. The centers provide care to children from infancy to 18 years of age, including surgery, feeding programs, and outpatient centers.

Early Childhood Intervention:

Texas is one of few states with strong ECI programs. While children are eligible for public schooling at age 3, much of their development will occur before then. It is priceless to have resources available that can help a young child with special needs, and the ECI program will not turn any family away who is unable to pay. Professionals can analyze a child’s scenario, then determine appropriate courses of action, such as access to early intervention therapists, a personalized learning plan, and assistance with transitioning into public schooling.


Metrocare is a community resource with a Mental Retardation Authority, which works to determine eligibility for, and appropriateness of, community services. The Authority also considers cases outside of mental retardation, from autism to cerebral palsy.

Children with Special Health Care Needs Services Program: 

This program offers assistance and benefits such as health care, family support services, and therapies.

Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Children’s Medicaid:

Families with children who receive Children’s Medicaid pay nothing for health care coverage, and children with CHIP pay no more than $50 per year. The coverage can assist with many special needs expenses, from medication to therapy. Be aware that both programs may have a waiting list.

Check here for other government funding and services.

Special Needs Schools for Children

Dallas has several schools for special needs, providing a variety of options for special needs schooling. A child with special needs is eligible for public school at age 3; programs differ greatly between districts. The Down Syndrome Guild can connect you to parents of children who are in a range of special needs programs in your area.

In Texas, an IEP (Individualized Education Program) is called an ARD (Admission, Review and Dismissal). To start your search, utilize one of these resources; once you have options, contact district or school officials for more information on enrollment and eligibility.

Adult Day Programs and Continuing Education

have completed school. A young adult can find his or her perfect fit with Dallas’ many tailored programs for different abilities and needs, whether the individual is ready for job preparedness programs, or would still benefit from one-on-one care and structured learning. Private programs are available, while government-funded and non-profit day programs are also options.

A small overview of programs and options can be found here, written by a former program volunteer.

  • Dallas Lighthouse for the Blind provides recreational and therapeutic resources for those with visual impairments, including job training.
  • The Jewish Family Service has long provided resources to families of adults with special needs.
  • The Arc Dallas provides training for jobs and independence, as well as special programming, summer camps and more.
  • REACH is a resource center for independent living.
  • Achievement Center of Texas provides day habilitation and life skills training for adults as well as enrichment programs such as art.
  • Canine Companions for Independence are something to consider as your daughter or son transitions from school to independence.

Recreation and Clubs

The opportunity to socialize is essential for emotional and social growth, but it can be hard to find events for special needs individuals. The following programs offer your child the chance to make friends in the Dallas Region.

  • Best Buddies Dallas is a strong example of our city’s character of inclusion. Local students from schools or colleges are paired with a “buddy” with special needs who have similar interests. All buddies gather for events such as dances, while your child’s buddy will take them on excursions like movies or dinner.
  • The Jewish Social and Athletics Club offers after school programming with events like a young adult dance.
  • Bachman Recreation Center has long catered to those with special needs.

Check this comprehensive list of recreation centers that provide programs to people with special needs and seniors, should you be looking for specific opportunities.


The Dallas Region, and Texas as a whole, has too many summer camps to count for children with all ranges of special needs. The Texas Department of State Health Services  lists dozens of camps and also provides links to other search engines. From diabetes or asthma, to muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy, a camp exists that matches your child’s needs.

Health, Wellness, and Family Support

Rays of Light is an organization where experienced volunteers provide free and fun care on Friday nights, allowing parents of special needs children to get much-deserved free time.

For an Autism Family: Autism Speaks is an organization that can direct you to support groups in your area.

For a Down’s Syndrome Family: The Down Syndrome Guild can connect you to locals who can share wisdom in Dallas and surrounding areas. For families further west towards Fort Worth, the Down Syndrome Partnership of North Texas can provide similar resources, such as information about schools or access to socialization opportunities.

The Sleep Help Institute is a resource for helping children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) to get better sleep.

How Sleep Affects Autism is a resource provided by Terry Cralle, a board-certified and registered nurse specializing in respiratory and sleep disorders.

The Sleep Guide from Happy Sleepy Head, written by sleep expert Edna Alfaro, is a resource to help children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) get better sleep. Additionally, Mattress 1000 provides a on sleep problems and autism.

Dental Care Guidance for Caregivers of Patients with Down Syndrome

Search DFWChild’s database for support groups and activities for families of those with special needs.

Adaptive Playgrounds

Dallas has dozens of adaptive playgrounds, with everything from wheelchair swings to sensory-friendly experiences. The spirit of inclusion is clear watching children have fun together on slides and in sand, regardless of ability.

A few noteworthy parks include:

  • Hope Park in Frisco is a huge, whimsical playground with both a small kid and a big kid area, so that all ages have activities to enjoy. The park was built to be inclusive and accessible to those with special needs; modifications include a slide that is static-free and safe for children with cochlear implants.
  • Casey’s Clubhouse at Dove Park is in Grapevine; it has a pirate theme with misting dolphins, ship wheels to steer and more.
  • KidMania at Celebration Park is located in Allen. The park is brightly colored and accessible ramps weave throughout the play space, with interactive features like drums available too.
  • Cottonwood Creek Park in Irving is adjacent to the city’s Miracle League adaptive baseball field, and is treehouse themed with multiple adaptive swings.

Maps and descriptions of more parks can be found at DFWchild.

Entertainment and Arts

Check all local attractions periodically for special needs discounts; many, like the Hawaiian Falls Waterparks, offer a lower rate and special hours throughout the year.

Challenge Air is an organization based out of Love Field that offers aviation as a fun and stimulating experience for children. They can get a personal flight above Dallas!

Several Dallas museums host special events such as the Dallas Museum of Art’s recurring Autism Family Days, with sensory-friendly and ability-appropriate arts and exhibits:

Dallas cinemas, theaters and performance halls give special sensory-friendly showings; Dallas Children’s Theater performances have lower sound and light stimulation, and Studio Movie Grill has special needs showings where children are free to walk around or talk.

Farms and nature preserves, such as Grisham Farms, host special needs children with everything from walks to petting zoos.

Sensory-friendly gyms, like It’s a Sensory World, have play spaces and equipment that can be enjoyed by all.

The Fort Worth Zoo is the first city in Texas to earn the Certified Autism Center™ designation. The zoo offers many sensory-friendly activities and events.

For a comprehensive list of entertainment, visit DFWChild.

Adaptive and Therapeutic Sports

RISE Adaptive Sports provides free-of-charge athletic opportunities and teams such as basketball.

The Miracle League of DFW is a baseball league adaptable for all ability levels. One-on-one buddies and coaches assist with hitting, running and the game as a whole, while letting the children shine and celebrate their achievements.

Special needs cheerleading allows children to be a part of a team that embraces self-expression and high energy levels. Texas Cheer All-Stars/Texas Cutez is one such team.

The YMCA locations throughout DFW offer opportunities such as swimming and baseball, as well as yearly summer camps.

The Dance Council of North Texas provides adaptive dance classes.

Special Needs Gymnastics hosts a multitude of events and even camps.

Several programs in Dallas provide therapeutic riding, or hippotherapy, to special needs individuals. Victory Therapy is one such center, also providing rehabilitative riding for veterans.

General Search Tools, Databases and Resources

Special Needs Financial Planning Checklist

DFW Child Special Needs Section